When I’m asked, “What do you do?” my answer, “Ocean Acoustics” is often followed by a puzzled look. And when I think about it, with good reason. Underwater acoustics can be a dense subject, difficult to describe in a short sentence with many different areas of focus. A few weeks ago, a presentation on representing science in social media (http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/bioacoustics/scicomm) by a few of the graduate students in our program, sparked the idea for this new path of communication and outreach for our group. The intent of this new blog effort is to share the science, research and all of the challenges and triumphs we go through to get to the point of discovery and results. By sharing some of the day-to-day activities and projects of our diverse group we hope to make underwater ocean acoustics research more accessible and interesting to a broad audience.
So in that light, I’ll share a recent journey I took into the wild-lands of an elementary school classroom to talk about sound in the ocean with a group of first graders. It was a tough room. Hard stares were directed my way as they determinedly chewed their popcorn snacks with looks of, “Well? Show us what you’ve got.” I brought in about 20 different biological, natural and man-made sounds that ranged from local recordings of whales, ships and a wave energy conversion device made right off the coast 5 miles from their classroom to ice noise recorded on the other side of the earth near Antarctica. I also brought in a collage of pictures composed of each type of sound with the words written in bold letters. After a very brief introduction on ocean acoustics, I told them about each sound we were going to hear and they were to guess at the source from the collage of images on the board. I played the sounds through a small sub-woofer and satellite speakers so we could shake the fluorescent lights in the classroom and give the kids some “boom” with the lower frequency signals. After a few rounds of playback and guesses were made, the room began to loosen up. I started to see a lot of smiles and excitement growing in every little face. Hands were shooting up around the room at each question. We talked about high and low frequencies and I started out each new guess with the question of whether they thought the sound had a biological, natural or man-made origin. Still not sure that last one sank in with all of them. The magic and fun of listening to sounds in the ocean was alive. After we’d finished the playbacks I took a poll to find out their favorite sound. Result: earthquake just barely won out over the blue whale!? That almost never happens. Must have impressed them with the sub-woofer turned up. At the end of the 40 minutes the kids’ tough stares had turned into smiles and I hope they learned some new things, particularly about sound in the oceans. I even think I might have made a few new friends.
Well, now it’s your turn. Guess the nature of sounds A and B below. Are they biological, natural process, or man-made? Send us a comment and let us know what you think they are.
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